A True Original

Andrew B. Kelly (Class of 1917)

By John W. Gearan
Holy Cross Magazine

"Life goes on, but some things should not be forgotten,'' says Andrew J. Kelly '60, the keeper of his father's flame.

Without a doubt, his father, Andrew B. Kelly '17, would be the face of track and field if Holy Cross had an imaginary Mount Rushmore chiseled somewhere dedicated to its glorious athletic past. Kelly would be alongside basketball's Bob Cousy '50, football's Bullet Bill Osmanski '39 and baseball's Ownie Carroll '25. They are the Big Four.

Yet somehow the fog of history can obscure the obvious. That is the danger of picking a debate-baiting list such as the "Top 25 Sports Moments" as we did in the last issue of Holy Cross Magazine. Alas, no mention of Andy Kelly's exploits.

Kelly, to be fair, has been duly recognized by alma mater. He was among six chosen to the first class of the Holy Cross Varsity Club's Hall of Fame alongside Cousy; Osmanski; Jack Barry, Class of 1910, who coached baseball at Holy Cross in five decades; the legendary Louis Sockalexis, member of the Class of 1897; and amateur golf king Willie Turnesa '38. Not bad company. And since the early 1980s, every Alumni Weekend is highlighted by the Andy Kelly Road Race/Walk, an annual 5K in his honor. (Until her death in 2007, Kelly's widow, Dorothy, would often shoot the starter's pistol.)

"Dad didn't talk a lot about his accomplishments," notes the younger Kelly in a recent chat, who sent polite notes to HCM when Dad's deeds of derring-do were overlooked in the Spring 2012 issue.

Andy Kelly was truly one of the most celebrated Crusaders in an era when newspapers reigned and radio and TV didn't exist. Amateur track and field ranked right up there with baseball, college football, horseracing and boxing in popularity.

Kelly had national star status as a sprinter. As a junior, he gained notice as the New England Intercollegiate champ, setting records in the 100-yard dash (9 and 4/5 seconds) and in the 220-yard dash (21 and 2/5 seconds). As a senior, Captain Kelly was simply sensational. He won New England Indoor Championships in the 50-yard and 60-yard sprints. On Jan. 27, 1917, in the Coast Artillery Games, Kelly, along with Thomas H. Mahoney Jr. '18, Jack Dunphy '17 and Tony Doyle '18, set a world record in the 1,280-yard relay (2 minutes, 28 and 2/5 seconds, see photo, opposite top). In a 1982 interview, Kelly explained: "That was an oddity really because that wasn't a standard distance; it was just a traditional race at Mechanics Hall in Boston, and the distance was dictated by the room in the hall."

On St. Patrick's Day, in his hometown of New York City, Kelly retained his National AAU crown in the 300-yard dash, setting a new world record with a time of 31 and 2/5 seconds. But perhaps better than the world record is the story that Andy Kelly, a gifted raconteur, loved to tell. "I got a dispensation to eat meat during Lent (and on Friday) from one priest the day before the meet in New York. I slipped down to a diner in Worcester so nobody would spot me and ordered a huge steak. But a Holy Cross alum spotted me and mentioned my misdoings to my corridor prefect, Fr. Duffy,'' Kelly told a Worcester Telegram columnist in 1982. "Well, Fr. Duffy, with a brogue you could cut with a knife, comes storming into my room and snaps, 'You'll be goin' straight to hell, you will,' and threatens to have me expelled."

Fr. Duffy was not overjoyed with Kelly's explanation about getting a dispensation from another Jesuit just to help Kelly and the Crusader track team. "It's still a mortal sin, young man!" roared Fr. Duffy. Kelly did not get expelled and the next day broke the world record, albeit steak-aided.

Experts predicted Kelly would be a key member of Team USA in the 1916 Berlin Olympics. No one knows what glories may have followed on his heels, as the 1916 games were cancelled due to World War I. Kelly enlisted in the 7th New York regiment and attained the rank of Army captain before the war ended on Nov. 11, 1918.

The following year in Paris, Kelly competed in the Inter-Allied Games, open only to veterans of the War. Running in the trials for the 100-meter dash, Kelly strained a tendon and lost an opportunity to compete against Charley Paddock and other finalists. In 1920 Paddock would win the 100-meter dash in the Antwerp Olympics.

Kelly, who had a successful career as a stockbroker and with the Internal Revenue Service, continued to run track with the New York Athletic Club and later officiated schoolboy track meets, but his days at Holy Cross remained the brightest spots in his memory. At his father's 1956 induction into the Holy Cross Varsity Club Hall of Fame, Kelly '60 observed, "My father likes his cigars, a good steak and his bridge games, but there was nothing that gave him more enjoyment or for which he was more fond than the times he spent at the College.''

John W. Gearan '65 is an award-winning writer who worked as a reporter and columnist for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette for 36 years. He resides in Rhode Island.

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2012 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.